North Western Winds

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Lift up your brain

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I caught a bit of a CBC show exposing Benny Hinn last night. If you don’t know Benny Hinn from Benny Hill, well, they are about equally serious. Hinn is a nasty character. Joe Bob Briggs has a description of a typical BH show in the satirical magazine, The Door:

Hinn’s services, for example, follow a strict pattern that’s calculated for maximum emotional impact and, not so coincidentally, maximum offering collection. From the time the crowd enters the arena, they’re massaged with mood lighting, repetitive music, responsive chanting, group gestures, group singing, various forms of choral and instrumental entertainment, all leading up to the moment Hinn makes his entrance. The song sung for the entrance is “How Great Thou Art,” making convenient use of an ambiguous personal pronoun.

“There’s power here, people!” Hinn will typically say. “Lift your hands and receive it.”

All dutifully lift their hands. “You will be healed tonight!” They sob and shout hallelujah. “All things are possible to him that believeth!” Hinn repeats this same sentence three times, getting a bigger emotional reaction each time he says it.

Chant, song, gesture, salute – all the classic techniques used to submerge the individual into a group. It works for dictators and it works for Hinn. But now that he’s joined them together in hope, he adds a dose of fear.

He speaks of huge disasters coming to the world. He tells them of the strange times we live in, a sinful world that will be cleansed by fire and earthquake. And there’s only one slim hope to escape: “Only those who have been giving to God’s work will be spared.”

As a violin plays, money is collected in big white plastic buckets. And as the ushers do their work, Hinn’s voice turns soothing. “Nothing will touch you. No one will touch your children. Nothing will touch your home.”

Although he never says, “Donate money or you’ll die,” he comes close.

People like Hinn do so much damage in the world. Obviously, his taking money and hope from people who are seriously ill is very sick. The money is bad enough, but crushing hope from the crippled is worse. Hinn also pollutes the waters of the culture, making all Christians look stupid. I know very well that this is the kind of thing that causes more left leaning voters to think of Red America as unbelievably stupid. As long as I was uninformed about older, more serious religion, I agreed with them. If Hinn really was representative of Christian thought, I’d agree with them still.

Hinn is not part of any church. He is “not a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Responsibility. That means his finances are private, his salary is secret, and his income is anybody’s guess.” He is a lone wolf on more than just finances. His theology (what there is of it; most of what Hinn does is create WWF style spectacle) is at odds with almost any church you care to mention, as Briggs points out:

Various theologians have trashed him, of course, for preaching “new revelations” directly from God that turn out to be, when examined, variations of thousand-year-old heresies.) He thinks of himself as a prophet (even when his prophecies don’t come true) and, in one burst of grandeur, “a little messiah walking on the earth.” He believes that the Biblical Adam flew into outer space, that when God parted the Red Sea He made it into a wall of ice, that God talks to him more frequently than he talked to, say, Moses, that a man has risen from the dead in his presence, that a man turned into a snake before his eyes, that angels come to his bedroom and talk to him, and that the only reason we’re not all in perfect health, living forever, is that there are demons in the world, attacking us. He’s expressed opinions normally heard only on schizophrenia wards, and he’s done it in front of millions of people – and still they come.

I watched about a half hour of the CBC show before I had to turn in. I got me to wondering, what is different about my faith and the stuff Hinn does? Well, the money for one thing. At a Catholic mass, a basket comes around before the consecration, but you don’t have to put anything in it. It is between you and God.

I was at a Catholic healing ceremony just once, and it was nothing like a Hinn show. Entrance was free, for one thing. The priests went up to those seeking “healing,” dipped their finger in consecrated oil and traced a small cross on the parishioners forehead, while saying a short phrase. This little ritual used to known as the “last rites” but now know as the annoiting of the sick (there are good reasons for this, which I won’t get into here). No one claimed to be suddenly healed. I don’t think anyone expected that. One or two people silently wiped a tear and sat down. I think the biggest difference is that in the church I attend, people wanted to be reconciled to God and his wisdom, even if that wisdom included a painful disease, the purpose of which made no sense to them. The idea of escape was not so much a part of it:

Suffering and illness have always been among the greatest problems that trouble the human spirit. Christians feel and experience pain as do all other people; yet their faith helps them to grasp more deeply the mystery of suffering and to bear their pain with greater courage. From Christ’s words they know that sickness has meaning and value for their own salvation and the salvation of the world. They also know that Christ, who during his life often visited and healed the sick, loves them in their illness.”

Oh, and then there is the fact that there were no screeners making sure that the truly sick never get on the stage (there was no stage!):

Even sadder than the people who think they’re healed are the ones so sick that Hinn’s employees never allow them to be seen on stage. People suffering from paralysis, brain damage, dementia and the like – people who couldn’t possibly make any “demonstration” on stage – are rejected at a screening session held backstage.

Hinn also spins tales of raising the Dead, seeing a man turned into a snake, personally channeling God, etc. How is this different from any of the other miracles described in the Bible? Well, as a Catholic the minimal standard of faith is the Apostle’s Creed, and the only miracles described in that are Christ’s birth, death and resurrection. Where does that leave the rest of the Bible? It’s a bit like that basket during the mass. You can bring various approaches to those texts as long as you don’t say it is all false. I read many of them as allegories – stories that are not literally true, but which have something true to tell us, that can be told in no other way. I read Genesis like that, for example. You don’t have to agree with me. You could be a literalist. There’s room for both of us.

With Hinn, however, if you question anything, suddenly his shortcomings are your fault:

Hinn says in his defense – when confronted with evidence that someone claimed to be healed and then died – that “The reason people lose their healing is because they begin questioning if God really did it.”

This may be his cruelest teaching of all. If you’re not healed – or, worse yet, if your sick child is not healed – it’s YOUR fault, for not having enough faith.

There doesn’t seem to be a shred of Christianity in that. Just blame and evasion.

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Written by Curt

November 10, 2004 at 8:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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